Dr. MacDonald's Translational Research in Cognitive and Affective Mechanisms (TRiCAM) laboratory investigates how genes, brain functions, thoughts and emotions work together, or sometimes fail to work together. This approach is applied across three programs of research currently underway in the TRiCAM lab:
- Where does madness happen, and why? Several projects explore the numerous problems that come from this simple question. We explore cognitive and affective processes in healthy populations to determine how these mechanisms work, as well as what happens when these processes break-down in schizophrenia. For example, how does the prefrontal cortex control, or inhibit, behavior? And, what causes a reduction in prefrontal cortex activity in schizophrenia? Is a particular gene relevant to inhibiting an automatic action? What emotions are associated with social decisions such as whether to trust someone? Are impairments in cognitive and affective processes associated with the genetic liability to schizophrenia?
- Are compulsive behaviors, such as drug addictions, caused by a failure of top down control or a failure to process rewards adaptively? What personality characteristics and cognitive capacities characterize individuals who are increased risk for addictions or other self-defeating behaviors? Are there neurotransmitter systems or particular brain regions that reflect this vulnerability?
- How do people find happiness? This program of research focuses on understanding the "secret" as to why some people happen to be happier than others, which is also known as their happiness set-point. This branch of research ties together global evaluations of happiness, personality and moment-to-moment emotional responses to the environment with the neural and genetic systems that underpin these responses